Why do we compartmentalize what we learn? What we do and use at work stays there too often. We need to learn to transfer our knowledge and skills between work and our other endeavors, and vice versa. In this age of technical agility and 24/7 working, the lines between work and nonwork are constantly blurred. But why aren’t the skills translating?
Example 1. A house of worship has a new system to register for their school. The system has never been tried before, but is going to go live for up to 700 families to sign up at the same time. If this were “real” work, do you think you’d let an untested system go live?
Example 2. A non-profit organization is on the verge of bankruptcy. The board needs to decide between two options, operating the way they have for the past 20 years or adopting a new and innovative solution. They choose the more expensive, traditional one that teeters them that much closer to bankruptcy. Would they even think of suggesting that at work?
These are just two examples of how we don’t apply our business knowledge and acumen to other settings. Yet the very best way to practice skills is to do just that – take the skills you’ve learned on the job or in training and practice them outside of work, so that you become more proficient. Service learning is the formal name for applying and using those skills with a community or nonprofit agency or organization. I’ve used that many times with amazing results.
Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science (www.rfums.edu) has an annual art fair now for children who draw pictures and make artistic rendering of what they think the future of medicine will look like. It is a huge hit within the RFUMS community as well as the larger community – the neighborhoods surrounding the school. It provides a great outreach and showcase for the school, as well as a chance to practice planning and organizing skills for the leaders that plan the event (complete with black tie opening night with delectables such as “crustless PB&J sandwiches!”)
A major window manufacturer had a Quality Manager who needed to learn coaching skills. He worked with 6 at-risk high school students who were not on track to graduate. 5 out of 6 ended up graduating with their class. The 6th got her GED that summer.
These are just two of numerous examples of service learning where people apply business, interpersonal and leadership skills outside of the workplace. So we can see planned service learning does work. But what about my first examples? These are the opposite – examples where people didn’t consciously transfer the skills they would use at work. Where it’s measured or tracked, it gets done. Otherwise, are we transferring our knowledge and skills, or compartmentalizing them still? As everything else blends in the world today, be sure to use skills learned on and off the job in all the settings where you are serving as a leader. Bottom line: you’ll come out a stronger leader, and both work and nonwork will value your contributions.
We can only hope that they will learn the value of service learning, and begin to transfer skills learned at work to other endeavors, and to keep practicing.